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Being a teenager in the 80’s definitely had its ups and downs. This was the time after the Hippies and before the internet. Musicians still used real instruments (remember the sax solo in RIO?) and lead vocalists had to use their real voices. And walking around with your pants hanging below your underwear would have gotten you beaten-up in high school (just as nature intended).
So here I was, a teenager growing up in Montreal in the heyday of Atari, Commodore and video arcades. I used to ride my bicycle across town to the mall with a handful of quarters to play Galaxian or Joust and was living in the moment.
At that time I periodically asked my father if he would help me out in purchasing an Atari 2600. My friend up the street had one and so naturally I needed one as well. I had some money saved up from shoveling the snow off peoples’ driveways but it wasn’t enough to purchase that ubiquitous “Heavy Sixer”. In the meantime I had sports, electronics projects and my VIC-20 to keep me out of trouble and kept the video game withdrawals at bay.
One day my father walked through the front door with a mysterious box in his arms. I remember seeing the grey hatch pattern on the box and thinking this has to be some type of high tech device. He smiled at me and headed to our basement. I was standing on our back porch and was soaking wet from having just jumped out of the pool. I dried myself off as quickly as I could and headed downstairs.
The door to the basement was closed. We used the basement as a rec room although it consisted mostly of a couch, a TV and our wood burning stove. I opened the door and was astonished at what was sitting there in front of me.
In the middle of the room, sitting on small table, was a curious looking black device that seemed to be some type of television. My father was a television engineer (as I am today) and so he often brought home oscilloscopes and various “black boxes” he used in his work. This device was different.
As I walked towards it, my father, who was in the next room, walked over and told me it was a Vectrex. He went on to explain how the vector graphics used were superior in resolution to pixel based gaming machines. He talked about beam deflection and scan rates. He compared the Vectrex to an oscilloscope and told me how ingenious it was of GCE to integrate an entire video gaming console into a single consolidated unit.
To him this wasn’t just a video game machine but an opportunity for me to learn about merging analog circuitry with digital design. Before we ever turned on the Vectrex he opened it up and we admired the elegance and ingenuity of the inner workings of this cool little black machine. My father was fascinated by this device and I shared in his enthusiasm. However, I was a 13 year old boy and this was a lean mean gaming machine. I was dying to try it out.
After putting all the pieces back together I turned it on for the first time. I remember the screen starting to glow and the famous Vectrex splash screen revealing itself to me for the first time. I was already hooked. My father said something about the buzzing sound being a grounding issue but my brain was focused on other things. I had never heard of the Vectrex before that day and I was very pleased to find out it had a built-in game! Not just any game either. It was an Asteroids clone but played much better than the Atari 2600 version.
Sitting next to the Vectrex was small grey box with more hatch patterns on it. It had “Hyperchase” boldly written across the front and inside was a cartridge. I turned off the Vectrex and plugged the cart into the slot on the side of the box. I soon discovered this was an excellent racing game that revealed a hidden secret. The Vectrex could read the analog pot! I then realized that I had something very special sitting there in front of me and realized the wisdom of my father’s choice in choosing this device over the 2600.
I loved playing my new Vectrex and spent many evenings in the basement with only the glow of its screen lighting up the room.
Over the next couple of years I occasionally played my Vectrex but I was becoming a man and my interests started to mature. I eventually wanted to buy a motorcycle and decided I needed to sell of a few things to help pay for it. The Vectrex fell victim to this endeavor and my father found someone at his work that was willing to take it off my hands for a very fair price. I remember when this man showed up at our door with his 12 year old son in tow. The boy’s face lit up like a torch when he saw the Vectrex and asked if he could try it out first. We went down to the basement and played several games of Rip Off. I then packed up the Vectrex in its box for the last time and watched as its new owner strapped it into the back seat of their AMC Eagle.
Life moved on and the years rolled by. I didn’t have much time for video games but I did own an NES and various flavors of Commodore PCs. Then, sometime in the early 2000s, I discovered EBAY. Before long I was bidding on a Vectrex unit and actually won the auction. It arrived at my door and as I opened the box a rush of memories washed over my brain. I held the Vectrex in my hand and at that moment realized how much I loved this little gaming machine. I soon wanted to code my own game and eventually add some peripherals that would bring it to the modern age.
I couldn’t tell you why I have such an affinity to the Vectrex. Perhaps it reminds me of my youth. It was a simpler time in my life where getting the highest score actually held so much meaning. In the end the Vectrex was a cool little box that kept so many of us occupied in our youth. It’s appeal still holds true today and no one can deny the uniqueness of this incredible machine.
This article was featured from November - December, 2011.
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